Saturday, 24 August 2013

Conan Saga #2 review

Conan Saga #2 published in June 1987
Reprinting Conan the Barbarian issues #4-6 published in 1971

The first story, "The Tower of the Elephant" is based on one of the more well regarded Conan stories by Robert E. Howard. The cover of Conan Saga #2 is of Conan climbing the tower. It's pretty good but not as good as the first Conan Saga cover. The colours of the tower along with the jewel look don’t work for me. I like the idea, but it doesn’t really work visually. In this story Conan is in a city of thieves and he is surprised to know that nobody has ever succeeded in trying to steal the Elephant's Heart jewel from the famed Tower of the Elephant. The jewel and the tower belong to a powerful wizard named Yara and the jewel is rumoured to have granted him immortality. Obviously, Conan attempts to enter the tower and steal all that he can. He is aided by Taurus of Nemedia, the prince of thieves. 

This is a great story and what makes it so good is not the thieving, it’s the mystery of the tower and what Conan finds there. Sure, the thieving is good too. There are ferocious lions and a giant venom spewing giant spider various other death traps and it’s all very exiting but what Conan finds at the heart of the tower gives the story all its power. Barry Windsor-Smith’s art very dynamic here and he does a very good job capturing the strange aura of the Tower of the Elephant.

The second story, "Zukala's Daughter" is inspired by the poem "Zukala's Hour" written by Robert E. Howard. Conan is passing through a small village in Zamoria and encounters some trouble. Conan is hired by the village to free them of the tyranny of the wizard Zukala. Some good ol' sword and sorcery action happens. 

The third and final story is titled "Devil-Wings Over Shadizar". Conan arrives at the city of Shadizar. He joins a fight between two thieves and ends up with their stolen goods (this is a fun little cameo of Fritz Leiber’s sword and sorcery duo Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser). He goes to a nearby tavern and flirts with a barmaid and before he knows it he's mixed up with fanatics of the local cult: the cult of the Night-God. It’s a pretty good story even though there are no mysteries, no real twists and turns. You know where the story is going for the most part but Thomas's old styled dialogue and narration accompanied by Windsor-Smith and Sal Buscema's art makes it an entertaining ride. The Night-God is superbly drawn. It’s just a giant bat but Windsor-Smith knocks it out of the park. The simple black and white somehow makes it seem much more frightening than it should be. I’m not sure Conan the Barbarian was originally published in colour, but if it was I have a feeling the bat would have been coloured in brown muddy colours which I believe would have ruin the effect. Look at that image, it’s fantastic! Something so normal but increased innumerably in size ends up as a terrifying monster for Conan to defeat.

There was an interesting evolution to Conan the Barbarian from issues #1-6. The first two issues have a more cartoony style. The lines are thicker and the backgrounds aren't as detailed. There were also fewer panels in the first two issues; the panels averaging out to about five panels per page. Issues #3, 4 and 5 are adapted from specific stories by Howard and maybe because Thomas and Windsor-Smith were adapting they had to squeeze in more panels. Issue #6 seems to follow in the footsteps of the adapted stories and the artists use narrower lines to convey more realistic figures and backgrounds while Thomas fills the panels with words. It’s unfortunate that Thomas seems to want to adapt one Robert E. Howard story per issue. Some of these stories could benefit from having more room to breathe. It’s even more unfortunate because Thomas has a habit of being wordy and the caption boxes and speech bubbles occasionally overcrowd the art. While Thomas still seems to be adjusting to an authorial style on Conan the Barbarian, Barry Windsor-Smith and Sal Buscema (his most frequent inker) has settled into a nice artistic style that suit Conan and his world rather well. I look forward to reading more of these issues, if only to find more art by Windsor-Smith. 

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